Kate Sheffield was not having a good day.
It had started off fine until she’d arrived at work. Then, everything had just gone downhill. The coffee machine had been down, so she’d been forced to go without her usual morning caffeine fix. She’d spend her morning all the phone to several potential authors and agents who had all seemed to be more interested in using her to get a date with Edwina than anything else. Her lunch had overran so the office canteen had been out of most of her favourites and spend had to spend the afternoon in two lengthy meetings and spending most of that time trying not to punch Anthony Bridgerton in the face.
Kate sank back in her chair. She’d finally escaped back to her office to snag a few minutes of calm before having to go back home. Usually, she loved her job. She’d been over the moon to be offered a position at Danbury Publishers – the company who published the widely-acclaimed Whistledown series. Spending her days going through potential manuscripts and getting paid for it. What was not to love. And regular arguments with Anthony not counting; she got on with everyone she worked with. She was good at her job and had recently been toying with the idea of going for a promotion. Anyone else would have considered themselves satisfied with their life. But she didn’t. Instead, she just felt empty. She loved her job and was extremely proud of what she’d achieved. But when she saw her sisters social media posts from nights out with her friends and various boyfriends she would fell something tug inside of her. When Edwina would tell her and Mary about the latest man that asked her out, Kate often felt left out. Not intentionally. Edwina wasn’t like that. But she knew she would never be able to contribute to those conversations with her own stories.
Kate ran her hands through her hair. She wasn’t defining the value of her happiness by whether she had a boyfriend or not. But she’d be an idiot if she said she was perfectly happy being single. Because she wasn’t. Not one bit. Edwin had men asking her out left right and centre – although she was a fairly well-known actress so Kate had to admit her sister would always have that over her. But even that wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for the one person she didn’t like at Danbury Publishers.
Kate would concede he was handsome and charming. Until he started talking. At that point it was nothing but arrogance and condescension. Almost from day one they had clashed. Thankfully, they didn’t work together – something she knew both their co-workers were thankful for – but most meetings saw them lock horns on several occasions. And if that wasn’t enough; the times they did interact outside of meetings; he always seemed to take great delight in rubbing his latest fling in her face. It was common knowledge she didn’t really go out on dates, whereas Anthony seemed to have a new girl every few weeks. If casual hook-ups where his thing then who was she to judge? She just didn’t see why he had to keep going on about it all the time. She didn’t dare ask him to stop. She knew he’d just say she was jealous. Which she wasn’t of course. She wasn’t jealous of any woman he chose to date. The fact she occasionally wished she was one of them she put down to hormones.
Kate glanced at the two manuscripts on her desk. She hadn’t even started looking at them yet. Looked like another all-nighter was going to be the plan for tonight. She hurriedly slid them into her bag and shut the office door behind her. As usual she was the last one to leave. Not because she was a workaholic like most people assumed. But because if she left with everyone else she would end up crammed into a small lift with them. Although it was only five floors to the ground; Kate couldn’t last five seconds in a lift full of people. Usually, she would wait until they left and get the lift by herself. There was a stairway in case of emergencies. But the stairs were so narrow and thin she’d end up breaking an ankle in her heels. Besides, given everyone else would rush to leave on time she never had to wait long for them to go. As she hurried down the corridor; she tugged her hair free from its ponytail and tried to fluff some life back into it. Even her hair hadn’t seemed to want to play ball today. Not that Kate was ever going to be a stunning beauty like her sister, but she tried to make an effort.
Her phone pinged and she groped around in her bag for it. Edwina’s name flashed on the screen and Kate hurried to open the message.
I’ve just seen Nigel Berbrooke. We were in a bar and I noticed him in the corner. He was with that model. Cressida Cowper? They were all over each other.
I’m so sorry Kate.
Kate blinked at the screen for a few minutes before going back through her messages. She found the one Nigel had sent her earlier that day.
Won’t be able to make tonight. Maybe another time?
She shoved her phone in her bag and stormed towards the main office doors. She was no expert, but she hadn’t thought last night’s date had gone that badly. Unless he had already been seeing Cressida? But then why bother to go on a date with her? Kate blinked and realised tears were pricking at her eyes. She hadn’t exactly been head over heels for Nigel Berbrooke. But after weeks he was the only man on the dating app who’d bothered to ask her out. She figured she might as well give it a go. She knew she was never going to win any beauty contests; but he could have at least bene honest and said he didn’t want to see her again. She’d rather that than find out from her sister he was in a bar snogging some model.
“I need a bath.” She muttered. “A nice, soothing bath with a glass of wine. Or maybe two.”
She pushed open the doors to see Anthony Bridgerton standing by the lift. Kate sighed.
She briefly contemplated slipping back inside and waiting for him to leave. But just as she took a step back he turned round and caught sight of her.
“Anthony.” She moved to stand beside him. He glanced at his watch before looking back at her.
“Sort of. You?”
“Yes.” He nodded briefly before they both went back to staring at the lift doors. Kate held her bag strap tightly. Anthony was the last person she wanted to be anywhere with. He glanced over at her.
“Are you okay?”
“Hmm? Yes, I’m fine.” She said quickly. Anthony raised an eyebrow.
“Are you sure? You seem a bit…upset.”
Kate blinked furiously. “I’m fine.”
“Okay. Well…look I know we don’t exactly get on but if you ever-”
“Anthony.” She cut him off. “I know this is probably the only time either of us have ever spoken without yelling at each other, and I appreciate what you’re trying to do but can you not? I don’t want to talk about it okay?”
He stared at her and for a few seconds Kate wondered if he was going to push her. But instead, he simply nodded.
“Of course. I’m sorry.”
Why did she now feel guilty? Kate briefly glanced at him. She didn’t have to talk about her private life if she didn’t want to. And it’s not as though he’d shown any interest before. Yet somehow she felt a pang of guilt for pushing him away.
The lift doors opened with a ping and he stood back to let her through first. Kate took a deep breath and stood right in the corner near the others door. Anthony narrowed his eyes briefly at her actions before entering and pressing the ground floor button. The doors slid shut and Kate kept her glance on the wall opposite her. If she did that and kept her breathing steady then she’d be fine. They’d be at the ground floor before she knew it.
“I’m not a fan of lifts either.” Anthony said suddenly. “I’m always glad when I can leave them.”
Kate nodded curtly and kept staring at the wall. The hum of the lift moving down washed over her. In a strange way it was almost soothing.
Then the humming slowed before stopping completely. The lift jerked and Kate glanced over at the buttons. Each one lit up as they passed the floor. Except none of them were lit. She glanced briefly at Anthony.
“Are…are we moving?”
He shook his head. “Shit. Hang on.”
He stabbed the ground floor button again, but nothing happened. Kate kept herself pressed in her corner as Anthony kept pressing the ground floor button.
“That’s not going to do anything.” She said.
He shot her a look before pressing the help button. For a few seconds nothing happened and then the intercom crackled.
“Hi Gareth.” Anthony said. “We’re in the lift and it’s stopped between the fourth and third floor.”
“Okay. Is it just you?”
“Not that it matters but it’s me and Kate Sheffield.”
Kate could have sworn she heard Gareth mutter “ooooh”, but the sound broke up. Anthony cleared his throat.
“Any chance on getting us out?”
“Sure. I’ll get in touch with the repair team. Stay right where you are.”
“Well, that scuppers my plan to go for a walk.” Anthony drawled. Kate smiled weakly.
“How long do you think they’ll be.”
Anthony shrugged and sat down on the floor. Kate watched him push his bag to one side and take his jacket off. She tried to ignore his broad shoulders stretching against his shirt and the rolled-up sleeves exposing his forearms. For all his irritability, Anthony Bridgerton was very good looking. He pushed his chestnut hair back and glanced at her.
“I’d sit down Kate. It’s not getting fixed in thirty seconds.”
“Right.” She shakily sank to the ground and let her own bag slid off her shoulder. Kate opted to keep her jacket on, but she kick her heels off and wiggle her toes.
“Not how you planned to spend your Friday evening I’m guessing?”
He shrugged. “I was meant to be at this party my mums throwing. If the repair lot are quick I might still make it. What about you? Any plans?”
She patted her bag. “Work. With a bit of sorrow drowning as well.”
Anthony gave a small nod. “Anything in particular?”
Kate stiffened. She really did not need Anthony Bridgerton to know what Nigel had done. It was bad enough he thought of her as some kind of spinster whilst he had every woman on the planet in his bed. She kept her hands placed firmly down on either side to try and ground herself.
She shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
“If you insist.” He smirked. “Must admit this makes a nice change. You not biting my head off.”
“Yes because you don’t do that to me. If anything, you’re far worse because you can never let the matter drop. You have to have the last word on any subject.”
He shrugged. “I have a lot of siblings. It’s sort of our default now I’m afraid.”
The intercom crackled into life and Gareth’s voice filled the lift.
“Still there guys?”
“No, we’ve gone ice-skating.” Anthony rolled his eyes. “Yes we’re still here.”
“Okay calm down! The repair team said it’ll be at least an hour I’m afraid. Sorry.”
“An hour!” Kate practically shrieked. “Did he just say we’re stuck here for an hour?”
“Why? Is being stuck with me in close quarters really so bad?” Anthony grinned. “I’d best text mum and say I’ll be late.”
Kate watched him hurriedly type out a message on her phone. The moment Gareth mentioned they’d be stuck for an hour, her chest had tightened. She forced herself to take deep breaths.
“It’ll be fine.” She whispered to herself. “It’ll be fine.”
She looked over to see Anthony had put his phone away and was staring at her in concern.
“Are you alright?”
“I just….” She shut her eyes. She hated admitting her weakness.
“I really don’t like lifts. They’re too small and it feels like the walls are closing in. I’m fine by myself for a few minutes but-”
“An hour stuck in one is not ideal.” He finished gently. Kate nodded and Anthony stabbed the help button again.
“Gareth? You said it’d be an hour right? Any chance you can get them to hurry it up? I’ll pay extra for the trouble if necessary.”
“I can try.” Gareth replied.
“Just do it.”
Kate waited for the intercom to drop.
“Anthony it’s fine.”
“Neither of us want to be here.” He explained. “You especially. It’s nothing.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Kate realised Anthony had shuffled closer. He was still on the opposite side, but he was now in the middle of the lift.
“Kate, are you sure you’re okay? I don’t just mean being stuck here. You seem…..well you do seem upset.”
She shook her head. “I’m not okay. But Anthony, with all due respect you are the last person I would be telling this to.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Charming.”
“Well, I’m sorry I don’t want the world’s biggest flirt to know how crap my dating life is!” She burst out. “I’m sorry I don’t want to sit here and tell you how no men want me and those that claim they do either use me to get to my sister or just chuck me for someone prettier and thinner. I’m so sorry I didn’t fancy telling you all this, when you talk about all your flings and hook-ups every day!”
She could see him staring at her in shock and she realised her eyes were becoming wet again. Kate hurried to wipe away any on coming tears.
“Tell me what happened.” He whispered.
Kate shook her head. “I was on this dating site. Edwina suggested it and I figured I might as well give it a go. There were some of the usual creeps who send disgusting messages and pictures, but I quickly blocked them. Yet they were the only ones who seemed even vaguely interested.”
“I wouldn’t call their behaviour ‘interested’ Kate.” Anthony growled. “Please tell me you didn’t try and meet any of them?”
“Of course, I didn’t!” She snapped. “I just left it and decided that even online, no man thinks I’m worthy of taking on a single date. And then I got a message from someone called Nigel Berbrooke. We chatted for a few weeks and then met up last night. And yes it was in a public place and I told Edwina and another friend where I was and everything.” Kate added.
“It seemed to be going fine. I suggested meeting again tonight and he text me today to say he couldn’t make it. Which was fine. But,” her voice caught, “but when I was leaving just now Edwina text me to say she saw Nigel in a bar making out with Cressida Cowper. The model.” She added. “So, I guess I now know why he ‘couldn’t make it’.”
She wiped her eyes. “I don’t even know why I’m that upset. It’s not like I was super into him. I just figured….you know what? It doesn’t matter. He didn’t want me. Like every other man I ever dated. Honestly, you’d think I was used to it by now.”
“Anthony if you’re going to make some kind of comment I really wouldn’t.”
He grabbed her hand and she glanced up to see him staring at her in a way he never had before. His eyes were full of intensity and anger.
“I was going to say that what he did was a really shitty thing.”
Anthony nodded and squeezed her hand. “I may flirt with lots of women, but I am clear about my intentions. If I don’t want to see a woman I will tell her to her face. I won’t lead her on. I am many things, but I believe in treating a woman honestly and not lying to her.”
Anthony smiled. “Do you know his address. I’m tempted to go round there and give him a piece of my mind.”
“Oh.” Kate bit her lip. “That’s not….you don’t….it’s fine.”
“It’s not fine Kate.” Anthony shook his head. “It’s far from fine.”
“No, I know. I just meant you don’t need to go and defend my honour or anything like that. He’s not worth it.”
Anthony looked like he wanted to argue. However, he simply nodded and shuffled in his position against the lift wall.
“Sorry you’re missing your mum’s party.” Kate said to break the silence. “I can’t imagine being stuck with me is the better alternative.”
“Well given you aren’t pushing me to settle down I’d say it was.” Anthony began tugging at his tie.
“I love my mum, but she is determined to see us all settle down. Ever since Daphne – my sister – got married last year. And as I’m the eldest she’d made me her next target.”
“If it’s any consolation I know the feeling. My step-mum is exactly the same. She keeps dropping hints about me going out more and making an effort to meet someone. It’s well-meant but…” she trailed off.
“You want to scream at her to shut up?” Anthony finished for her. Kate nodded and he smiled softly.
“Been there plenty of times.”
“It’s the only reason I even did that dating site. I figured it’d keep her quiet. Not that I’m gonna enjoy telling her why I’m not seeing Nigel again but….well it might mean she stops bugging me for a while, so I guess there’s a silver lining.”
“Kate?” Anthony had shuffled even closer and their legs were now brushing against each other.
“Does….does that thing happen often? Men going for drinks or a meal and then moving onto someone else?”
She nodded. “Mostly they want to use me to get in with Edwina. Which is pointless because anyone who treats me like that she is instantly against. So, they sabotage themselves really. But it’s been a while since anyone’s done what Nigel did.”
“Well, it’s their loss.” Anthony announced. “Seriously. If they can’t see what an amazing woman you are then they’re idiots who didn’t deserve you in the first place.”
Kate stared at him open mouthed. “Was that a compliment you just gave me?”
Anthony nodded. “Yes. And I meant every word as well.”
Kate was very rarely lost for words. But when the man you spent most of your time verbally sparring with suddenly gave you a compliment, it did throw you. Anthony had turned his attention back to his phone and she used his lack of attention to watch him closely. The way his hair fell just over his eyes and how his face lit up with a smile at whatever was on the screen. It was almost endearing. Kate couldn’t help wished he smiled at her like that.
Her eyes widened at the thought. Yes she found him attractive. She wasn’t blind after all. But she’d never even thought of him being anything more than a co-worker. Mostly. The occasional daydream notwithstanding. Or dream in general now she thought about it. And the fact her stomach would twist whenever he mentioned his latest date of hook-up was completely irrelevant.
Kate drew her knees to her chest. Being stuck in a lift was bad enough. Being stuck in a lift and realising that the man you thought you hated you might actually be into was even worse.
Being stuck in the lift with the man you thought you hated but were actually attracted to was practically a nightmare.
He was staring straight at her. The concern covering his face would have been sweet if it didn’t complicate the turmoil going on in her brain right now. Anthony gently reached over for her hand.
“Are you alright? You’ve gone pale? Is it the lift?”
He didn’t wait for her answer and he stabbed the help button.
“Gareth? What’s going on with the repair team?”
“They said it could be half an hour? Maybe a bit more.”
“That’s not good enough!” Anthony spat. “Tell them hurry it up now!”
Kate noticed Gareth didn’t bother to respond. She hugged her knees close to her chest and Anthony almost looked stricken at the gesture.
“Are you….do you mind if I…?”
He gestured to the space beside her and Kate shook her head. With a nod, Anthony shuffled so he was now sitting directly beside her. He hovered his arm above her shoulder.
Kate settled against him – uncomfortably aware of how right his arm around her felt. Her head was settled against his chest and she could feel his heart beating furiously.
“We’ll be fine.” He said. “They’ll get us out soon.”
Kate nodded. She didn’t trust herself to answer.
“Do you have any…um….coping mechanisms for this sort of thing? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I’ve never been trapped in a lift before so I’m not sure what would work.”
“You mean you didn’t do it every Saturday?” Anthony asked. Kate could picture his smirk and she smiled to herself.
“Oddly, enough no. But…but this is nice. This is calming. Thank you.”
Anthony gave her a gentle squeeze. “It’s nothing. Truly.”
“I guess I’ll just file this down as a day to not be repeated.” Kate blinked furiously. “I mean it’s not even like the coffee machine was working! Never mind having your sister text to say the guy you were sort of dating decided to cheat on you. And to top it off I got stuck in a bloody lift which is the last place I ever wanted to be stuck!”
Her voice cracked at the end and tears began to fall. Anthony stiffened for a few seconds before he moved his free arm to hug her close. For a few seconds Kate was tempted to fight the tears. But she was too tired to do it.
“Let it out.” Anthony whispered. “Seriously, I won’t tell anyone. Just let it out.”
And she did. If anyone had told her that one day she would be sobbing into Anthony Bridgertons arms whilst he stroked her hair and whispered soothing words; she’d have never believed it. Yet that’s what was happening.
“I’m sorry.” She eased back and wiped at her eyes. “Sorry for crying on you. I’m just….sometimes I’m just so fed up with it all.”
“I know.” Anthony said sympathetically. He kept one arm around her but gently pushed her hair back with the other.
“What’s wrong with me?” Kate asked. Anthony froze at her question and she stared at him.
“Seriously, what is wrong with me? I’m not saying I need men falling at my feet but why do all of them just see me as…as something disposable! I’ve dated so many different men so it can’t be that I have a bad type. It must be me. So, what is wrong with me?”
Anthony cupped her face. “There is nothing wrong with you Kate. Nothing at all. Don’t ever think that there is.”
Then Anthony kissed her.
It took her brain a few slow seconds to twig that Anthony Bridgerton was kissing her. His lips coaxed at hers whilst his hand moved from her face to her hair. The arm around her back pulled her closer against his body. Kate gripped at his shirt and her numbs lips returned the kiss for a few seconds before pulled away.
“I’m so sorry!”
He let her go as though he had burnt her. “I’m so sorry. That was…I should never have….that was inexcusable.”
“Anthony what are you talking about?”
He shook his head. “You were upset and vulnerable and it was wrong of me to kiss you. The fact I wanted to does not mean I should have. I took advantage of you and I apologise. If you want to report this to HR I will completely understand.”
“I….what?” Kate ran her fingers along her lips as though that would make it all real. Had Anthony – a man who from day one had driven her mad and vice versa – really just kissed her. Anthony was staring at her in fear and she realised he was dreading her reaction. But there was only one thing Kate could focus on.
“What do you mean you wanted to kiss me?”
Anthony reached for her before withdrawing his hand.
“Kate I’ve wanted to kiss you since the day I met you!”
“But…but you don’t like me. We don’t like each other?”
“Well whilst I can’t speak for you, I can tell you right now that I do like you Kate. Quite a lot actually. The moment we were introduced I’ve been head over heels for you.”
“But…” Kate shook her head. “Hang on. You berate me. You patronise me and push every single one of my buttons at every opportunity!”
“I know!” Anthony groaned. “I know. And for what it’s worth I’m sorry. I was doing it to protect myself.”
He yanked at his hair. “I know this is going to sound so vain, but I know woman find me attractive. But most only want casual dates. One-night stands and that sort of thing. And that’s fine for me because…” His own voice cracked.
“Because it’s all I’m good for. I’m not….I don’t think I’m the sort of person who should be loved. Or who can be loved. But then I met you and I realised that you were so different. I genuinely was head-over heels the moment we met and as time went on I realised I….”
He glanced up at her with red eyes.
“I realised I was in love with you.”
Kate sank back against the lift doors and Anthony nodded.
“Shocking I know. Womaniser Anthony Bridgerton is capable of love. But I knew if we did ever dated then it would go wrong. You’d eventually get tired of me and leave, and I’d have lost you. And I can’t do that Kate. I really can’t. So, I figured if I pissed you off enough you’d want nothing to do with me. I wouldn’t be opening myself up to heartbreak.”
“Why would you assume I’d leave?”
“Because every other woman has. They soon learn I’m not really interested in constant sex and flirting. They get bored at the idea of just dating. Having movie nights in or going for walks and things like that. So, they leave. I figured I was just unlovable.”
“I know I tell you that you’re wrong at least twice a week.” Kate said. “But right now, you’ve never been more wrong in your life.”
Anthony blinked at her and she nodded.
“You’re not unlovable. You can be a complete pain in the arse at times, but you are kind. And caring and sweet and….God you’re so perfect it’s actually a little bit annoying.”
He snorted and Kate felt a glow in her stomach at the sight of his smile returning.
“If those girls don’t want you for who you are then it’s their loss. And….” She took a deep breath.
“And…. Oh screw it.”
Anthony opened his mouth and she shot forward and crashed her lips against his. He clearly wasn’t expecting her to move and so he fell back onto the floor with her on top of him. His hands gripped her waist softly and Kate allowed one of her legs to slide in between his.
“Kate?” Anthony eased back as far as he could without banging his head on the floor.
“Are you..? Do you mean this?”
With a nod, Kate gently pushed his hair out of his face.
“I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I’ve been head-over heels for you too.”
With a beaming grin, Anthony curled one arm around her waist to hold her close whilst the other got lost in his hair. Kate allowed him to take the lead with the kiss and she was surprised at how gentle he was being. Almost as though he was nervous to keep kissing her.
“I don’t want to spoil the moment.” He mumbled between kisses. “But I may have had one or two dreams along this line.”
“Don’t crow.” Kate replied. “But so, have I.”
When the door opened on the ground floor; the pair of them were standing side by side, fully dressed. But their rumpled clothing and mussed hair told Gareth all he needed to know. Anthony shot him a glare before taking Kate’s hand and leading her from the office whilst Gareth simply waved them out with a smirk.
When they arrived at the office the next day hand in hand, they were greeted with rounds of applause and cheers and wolf-whistles. And when Kate pulled Anthony in for a kiss in front of everyone; the cheers simply got louder.
“Did I ever tell you, you’re the finest woman in England?” Anthony kissed her forehead.
“No.” Kate smiled. “But if you could have it put on a t-shirt for me that’d be nice.”
With a smile, Anthony pulled her in for another kiss.